April proved a somewhat dismal month for architects, as they experienced lower billings -- a leading economic indicator of construction activity -- but a surge in new project inquiries may cast a rosier picture for the real estate market in the relatively near future. The American Institute of Architects' (AIA) Architecture Billings Index (ABI), which reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending, reported a rating of 42.8 in April, down from 43.7 in March. The nation's northeastern region fared comparatively best, posting a 47.1 on the billings index, while the West's ABI rating was lowest at 39.2. The mixed practice sector comprised the majority of billings, followed by institutional real estate, multi-family residential and commercial real estate. April marks the first time since August and September 2008 that the index was above 40 for two consecutive months. But the Institute warns the score still indicates an overall decline in demand for design services, as the score must ring in above 50 to indicate an increase in billings. The new projects inquiry score, however, sits at 56.8. "The most encouraging part of this news is that this is the second month with very strong inquiries for new projects," says AIA chief economist Kermit Baker. "A growing number of architecture firms report potential projects arising from federal stimulus funds." Write to Kelly Curran.